Gabourey Sidibe in Precious / image courtesy of Icon Film
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
Precious - or, to be precise, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire - is the ultimate misery movie: the story of a morbidly obese, illiterate, abused and pregnant Harlem teenager for whom life is only bearable because of her self-hating interior fantasy world. "So staggering, in fact, are the offences to decency, loyalty and love that you begin to worry that the film will topple over from the weight of its woes" says the Independent (3 stars), but the involvement of Oprah Winfrey has transformed the film from small misery memoir to major awards contender. The Guardian is not sure why: "it isn't the transcendent masterpiece that some admirers would have you believe: more like a black-comic nightmare that isn't exactly supposed to be funny" (3 stars). The film "threatens to become a litany of salacious abuses primed for shock value rather than painful insight" (Times, 3 stars), but for true diverging opinions look to the Telegraph (1 star) dismissing the characters as "pawns, campy cut-outs at best" while Empire says "dramatically it's a blow-your-socks-off triumph" (5 stars). Sometimes reviews just aren't helpful.
Mel Gibson returns to the front of the camera for Edge of Darkness, to play a cop investigating his daughter's murder and perhaps even a conspiracy surrounding her environmental activism. Empire is just chuffed to have Gibson back; he "brings the pain - either with a pistol or his eyes, which carry the same wounded, vulnerable quality they always have, here fully exploited" (3 stars), but of the film the Standard complains that "while it doesn't lack tension, [it] never catches fire" (2 stars). It "boils over into a fairly generic revenge picture" (Times, 2 stars) and "by the final reel the script has lost all interest in the plot's complexities and drops the pretence of 'darkness' in favour of a frenzied shoot-'em-up" (Independent, 1 star).
The Princess and the Frog is a return to the 'hand drawn' animation style for Disney. Tiana is a young black woman in old New Orleans, dreaming of owning her own cafe. When she meets a talking frog who claims to be a prince, she figures there's no harm in kissing him... except she also then turns into a frog. (Cue many singing swamp creatures.) "Magical wish-fulfilment, as ever in traditional Mouse House fare, is just a power ballad away" courtesy of Randy Newman (Telegraph, 3 stars), and though it may have "more charm than pace and more careful detail than spectacle" (Standard, 3 stars) the Independent declares it "a jolly hand-crafted pageant that shows vibrant signs of life even in the age of Avatar" (4 stars).
From South Korea comes Breathless, the story of a loan shark's enforcer who enjoys beating the crap out of anyone that isn't his half sister or some kids. "Hard to watch, at times, but brimming with vitality" is the Independent's verdict (3 stars); the Standard finds it's "as tough as teak and violent. But it's certainly original" (2 stars). The Times wonders if it detects the "whiff of a vanity project" as director Yang Ik-Joon casts himself as the lead, but ultimately decides it makes for "a promising if curious debut" (3 stars).
"The gap between the laudable ambitions and the pretentious, self-important execution of Atom Egoyan's Adoration is so vast it’s almost painful to watch" is how the Times (2 stars) kicks off its review and it seems such a good summary of the strength of feeling that we thought we'd do the same. Teacher Arsinée Khanjian encourages a pupil to pretend that his father was a terrorist, but then the story reaches the internet and "we seem to be watching an illustrated lecture rather than a drama of ideas" (Independent, 2 stars). "Freed from the discipline of linear plotting, [Egoyan] spirals into abstraction" says an unhappy Empire (2 stars) and "just about everyone seems completely off their rocker" (Telegraph, 2 stars).
"Another gem from the Ozu canon" (Guardian, 5 stars), Late Autumn is re-released as part of the BFI's retrospective. It's about attempts by a trio of salarymen to marry off the daughter of a widow (perhaps a pretext to get her to marry one of them herself). "Static camerawork and precise interiors reinforce the mood of formalism" (Empire, 4 stars), "but it has a mild humour at the expense of [the] three rather pompous, meddling men, and a gentle emotional swell" (Times, 4 stars).
Liz Mermin's documentary about Horses follows three racing animals from an Irish stable, and manages to convey the personalities of each using tricks which, spread over a "feature-length movie is often tiresome, and inevitably, ahem, a one-trick pony" (Times, 2 stars). But the Guardian found this horsey year-in-the-life "a pleasure to watch" (3 stars).
Julien Temple charts the rise and fall of Dr Feelgood in Oil City Confidential. Using old home movies, archive footage and new interviews, it "packs a bigger punch than expected" (Standard, 3 stars) and "in the band's mad-eyed, quixotic guitarist Wilco Johnson, the film has a tirelessly charismatic ringmaster" (Telegraph, 4 stars).
There's only one review for Our Beloved Month of August, on at the Cine Lumiere. Director Miguel Gomes has pitched up with a cast and crew in a Portuguese village ostensibly to shoot a horror movie, but there's nothing happening. Instead, Gomes films the villagers and wanders about the landscape watching nothing happen - until something does. The Guardian is enraptured, calling it "a real one-off: eccentric and singular and cerebral: an arthouse event, yes, but also witty and emotionally engaged" (4 stars).
Next week: South African rugby in Invictus and Michael Cera being young and kooky (again) in Youth in Revolt.